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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Violation’ Can’t Fit the Pieces Together

Madeleine Sims-Fewer puts herself through the wringer for Violation, her feature directing debut with co-director Dusty Mancinelli. While the duo shared directing, writing, and producing duties on the film, Sims-Fewer also stars in the leading role as Miriam, a woman who heads to a cabin getaway with her husband Caleb (Obi Abili), sharing the weekend trip with Miriam’s sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). The film’s title hints that it won’t be long before things go awry, and when the event in question is brought into light, things take a harrowing turn for both the characters and the audience. 

Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli use this inciting incident to explore trauma and betrayal from those closest to you, along with the ways in which survivors of assault are gaslit and dismissed, even by people they’re trying to protect. It’s explosive territory for a debut feature, and the duo nobly puts forth an effort to tackle this difficult, important subject matter. However, Violation feels like a movie that has a strong idea without a solid follow through. The narrative structure utilizes extensive flashbacks and time jumps, shifting us back and forth through time to the point that it garbles any meaningful observations the film is attempting to make. 

There’s a brutality to the feature that feels like an appropriate physical manifestation of the anguish that the main character is going through, with Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli often using imagery of animals clinging to life or being ripped apart (animal lovers proceed with caution) to convey the savage ways in which people can bring pain to other living things. Sadly, this detailed attention to metaphor doesn’t extend to the care taken with the script, which is a disastrous disarray of character beats that ultimately removes the ability to invest in the characters or the arc that the writer/directors are trying to establish. 

Case in point, it’s impossible to understand the relationship between the two sisters. We get bits and pieces of backstory for their relationship, yet with the shifting timelines and little attention paid to Greta, we aren’t able to get a read on why she acts the way that she does towards the well-meaning Miriam, particularly in some of the heaviest scenes. The script spends tedious amounts of time in certain sequences filling in the blanks of where character relationships have shifted during the time jumps, but then it will go back in time and show us the entire interaction that we already knew must have happened based on other scenes. It’s redundancy after redundancy, padding out a running time that feels bloated even at only 107 minutes. 

Violation is a movie that seems to know what it wants to say, with no idea how to say it. There are effective scenes throughout the film, but it only gets more frustrating when they don’t coalesce into a satisfying whole, creating pieces that don’t fit together to form the correct puzzle. The characters start off as interesting until the narrative stretches on and bounces all around, giving us no time to invest in them or understand their dimensions. You could easily cut Caleb out of the movie entirely without us missing much, and that’s difficult to come to terms with when he’s one of only four characters in the movie. The core ideas are there, and Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli show a lot of promise, but this is a feature that feels like it would have been more effective as a short. It’s doing too much for its own good. 

SCORE: ★1/2

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Written by Mitchell Beaupre

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